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Migraines

27 Aug 2000

For as hellishly torturous as they are, I find migraines to be sickly fascinating. They always starts the same way for me. This morning during breakfast I started seeing auras, as if I had been staring into a bright light. It’s frightening, but for some reason, I never seem to realize that the headache is going to come until it’s too late.

When the headache does come is when the real agony begins. I run for the medicine so that I can lie down as quickly as possible. Then I start to lose my mind. Photophobia, phonophobia, osmophobia. The most annoying songs play like a scratched CD in my brain. Obscure memories from dreams or the distant past replay themselves repeatedly, each time zooming in closer and closer on some detail until I can’t stand it anymore, and then it keeps going, like there’s a demon at the wheel of my attention. I hear everything, and nothing I do can stop me from listening. I hear the pulsing of the blood in my ears, I hear each individual bug chirp, I hear the clatter of the wheels of the train passing two miles away. If I were to dare open my eyes (which I know from experience not to do), every form and shape and color would claw at me, first at my eyes directly, and then penetrate into my mind, and replicate, and mutate. All my senses are heightened to the overloading point, and I’m forced to pay close attention to every detail.

Then the compulsive componential analysis sets in. Every sight and sound and notion that gets involuntarily captured by my out-of-control attention is seized and broken down into its more basic parts. I stop hearing speech and start hearing speech acts and rhetorical strategies. Then the meaning of sentences is lost and replaced with phonetics and syntax and lexical items (at which point it’s only natural to consider the evolution of the morphemes involved).

Inexplicably, the idea of pizza seizes control of me (or my demon seizes control of it, I haven’t figured out which). Each ingredient becomes a new hellish runaway thought train. Against my will I see the dough being tossed, the wheat being ground, separated from the chaff, and harvested. The eggs can’t simply remain eggs in my hyperactive conscious; they insist on being thought of as immature chicken embryos. Every scrap of left-for-dead knowledge acquired and forgotten in my life stands up to help make an educated guess about the possible origin of pepperoni.

I see the blanket I’ve laid in front of my eyes, but before long I can’t see it at all—instead I see each thread. Then I see the workers on the floor of the factory, their dirty hands maintaining the gigantic automated loom where each thread is intertwined, and the red dye in the factory across the country, and the cotton in the field, and the seed of the cotton plant and its fertilization and the process of photosynthesis, then the cellular division and the golgi apparatuses. At this point the things I’m forced to see in my mind cease to be based on the real world, and are replaced by colorful models of reality gleaned from some chemistry textbook. With my face tense and my body writhing, I fly into the cell nucleus until I recognize chains of carbon molecules, then deeper into clusters of atoms. An electron whizzes past my field of view.

And through it all, I can only sweat and shiver and wait for the inevitable nausea, which, as far as I can tell, is the only way out. After I’m finally able to sleep in an exhausted sprawl, and my body and mind are finally mine again, I find myself taking almost masochistic curiosity in the experience. It’s sick, but it’s such an intense experience, almost out of body, that I learn startling things about myself every time.